Why OCR Software?
The top performers in our review are Adobe's Acrobat Pro DC, the Gold Award winner; Nuance's OmniPage Standard 18, the Silver Award winner; and ABBYY FineReader Professional, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing an OCR application to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 products.
If you've ever had to go through the labor-intensive (and frustrating) process of creating an electronic version of a document from a paper document or scan a large volume of documents, you can appreciate optical character recognition (OCR) software. OCR software scans documents – PDFs, Microsoft Office documents, TXT files – replicates them, then converts them into searchable documents, saving you the time and hassle of recreating documents.
There are many free OCR software programs on the internet. However, before you buy or even try OCR software, be sure you need it. Top Ten Reviews has reviewed numerous products and software applications that include OCR capability.
If you have a reasonably new scanner, for instance, its software almost certainly can convert your scans, PDFs or text images into searchable documents. Top Ten Reviews has evaluated document management systems (OCR capability is usually a component of these systems). Additionally, if you've purchased software that converts documents into PDFs, and the application allows you to create, edit, combine and change PDFs into other file types, you may also already have access to OCR.
OCR recognition has come a long way since its inception in the early 1990s. Today the technology recognizes characters more accurately (and in a variety of languages). OCR is also capable of recreating your documents' original layout designs, colors and font choices. Further, the best OCR applications can now use an image of a document taken with a cell phone or tablet, replicate it and make it searchable.
OCR Software: What We Tested, What We Found
Whenever possible, Top Ten Reviews evaluates all products and services in hands-on tests designed to simulate as closely as possible the experiences of the typical consumer. The companies on our list had no input or influence over our test methods nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. In addition, the results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
The most significant and timesaving attribute of OCR software is how closely it duplicates the original document. While OCR software manufacturers often advertise accuracy percentages with their software, we ran our own tests to determine the accuracy of each OCR software application on our list.
For this test, we scanned 33 pages of documents that contained text, tables and images using the OCR application. We then converted it from an image to a Word document. We reviewed 17,526 characters for accuracy and created a score based on the accuracy of the characters as well as the formatting and style of the document. We compared the number of errors in the document to the amount of characters it had in it to determine how accurate the scanned copy was. While formatting issues generally upset the order of the entire document, we only counted a skewed table or jumbled layout as one mistake.
OmniPage, ABBYY FineReader Professional and Soda PDF also did exceptionally well in terms of overall accuracy, though each application fell somewhat short with formatting. There were some instances, for example, where the software altered the spacing of text or the formatting of a table, which required us to review the entire document and make minor adjustments. The rest of the OCR software converted our test document with minimal errors, but, as you'll see by looking at our matrix, not quite as well as the above programs.
In addition to evaluating the accuracy of each software application, we tested how easy each program was to use. For our usability score, we assessed the software's accessibility. The programs you can access online from any internet-enabled device received the highest score, including Soda PDF. All other software requires that you download it to your desktop; however, some – Adobe Acrobat, ABBYY FineReader and Prizmo – have an associated app you can use to access your files or scan new documents to the program.
A second critical aspect we looked for were features that improved usability, including start-up wizards and an integrated knowledgebase. We evaluated each software's wizard (when and how often it pops up) as well as alternative ways the program helps you learn where the tools are located and how to use them.
Nearly all of the programs featured a similar interface. However, some featured tools that instructed users on how to use features through pop-up instructions or start-up wizards. We found these programs easier to use than applications that only offered a knowledgebase. Our top-rated programs combine both usability and accuracy, providing users with a high-performing software that speed the process of converting paper documents to electronic files.
OCR Software: What to Look For
Top Ten Reviews provides you with a side-by-side comparison of the 10 best OCR software packages. Although each program contains OCR functionality, some applications direct your scanner while others work primarily with PDF documents and previously scanned images. Some programs offer other functions in addition to OCR while others are primarily focused on converting hard-copy documents into searchable electronic files. So what is a consumer to do? Below are the critical aspects to consider when deciding on an OCR application.
Value: Does Cost Translate to Better Performance?
At first glance, the price range of the products we reviewed seems broad. But does paying more net you better performance? The answer is not that straightforward. Some applications are sold as monthly subscriptions while others are outright purchases.
Adobe Acrobat Pro DC's price is at the high end of the spectrum. And while you certainly get more functionality from this all-new version of Acrobat, you must pay for this software on a month-to-month or yearly basis, which ultimately adds up to a higher price point than the other software apps on our lineup that offer outright purchases. At the same time, individuals who purchase this more expensive program receive constant software updates. Another variable that affects prices is that some OCR products have different prices for Macintosh versions of the software. So pricing isn't always a reflection of added functionality nor should it be used to judge the quality of an application.
Performance: Does the Application Perform Its Tasks Well?
In OCR software, performance is everything. A program may have a number of features, but its primary function is to convert images into accurate, searchable text in a format that duplicates the original graphic design.
Features that help improve the accuracy of your documents range from image-editing tools, like 3D correction, to language recognition features that convert documents ranging in languages, symbols and characters.
Performance also encompasses how easy the application is to use. For example, is the program straightforward to download? Is it designed intuitively so you don't have to spend much time utilizing the help resources? Can it enhance or adjust the scan to improve accuracy and make the process even easier? Because of these considerations, performance was heavily weighted.
Features: What Specific Tasks Does the Software Perform?
We reviewed each OCR software's feature set to see which programs provide the scanning functions that best fit your project's needs. Some features, like the ability to convert mobile phone photos to electronic files, may be vital to you but may not be important to someone else. Therefore, we didn't score scanning capabilities as highly as accuracy and usability.
Integration: Does It Work With Your Most Used Applications?
The best OCR software works with the applications and storage methods you are the most familiar with and allows you to take a PDF and convert it to a Microsoft Office format like Word or PowerPoint.
If the OCR software does not integrate with cloud storage (which two of the applications on our list don't), you can read our review of the best cloud storage services and manually upload your files to the cloud.
Help & Support: What Resources Are Available?
While OCR software should be intuitive, you want easy access to support materials when you need help. For example, does the software offer a user manual, tutorials, answers to frequently asked questions or the ability to contact a customer service or technical support rep?
OCR Software: Our Verdict & Recommendations
The best-performing applications in our OCR software review include Adobe Acrobat Pro DC, OmniPage Standard 18 by Nuance Communications Inc., and FineReader Professional by ABBYY. They offer the best performance and highly accurate conversions.
Depending on your needs, other applications on our lineup may be the perfect fit for your company. Several programs are compatible for Windows and Mac computers. Aside from Adobe Acrobat, which works across platforms, we found the best OCR software for Mac users is Readiris. This software is easy to use and offers high-quality conversions that require little revision.
Soda PDF offers the most mobility. You can either download this software to your desktop or mobile device, or access the platform from any web-enabled device. Not only can you convert and access documents from almost anywhere, the software offers high performance and accuracy.
Read more about the strengths and weaknesses of each of our Top Ten Reviews optical character recognition software packages. In addition, you can find several articles about OCR software and other software essential to your small business on our site.